Health experts are urging everyone eligible for a free flu jab to take up the offer before winter – and help protect themselves, patients and loved ones.
It comes after health and care services nationwide came under significant pressure last winter due to factors including extreme weather conditions and a particularly bad flu season.
Flu can be unpleasant, but for otherwise healthy people it will usually clear up on its own. However for some people, particularly those in at risk groups, flu can lead to serious infections such as potentially life-threatening pneumonia.
That is why the vaccine is offered to social care workers, those aged 65 and over, pregnant women, children aged two and three, those in reception class and school years one to five, and people with certain medical conditions.
All front line health workers across Portsmouth and south east Hampshire are urged to get vaccinated – and so far 58 per cent of Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust employees have – to protect patients, colleagues, loved ones and themselves.
Kelly Bicknell, clinical scientist at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust (PHT), has had the jab. Kelly said: ‘I’ve had the flu twice. The first time was just after I’d joined the NHS in December and hadn’t had the vaccination. I was off sick for two weeks and felt like I’d been hit by a truck. Every year since then I have always had the flu jab, and that’s been 12 years.
‘The reason I get the flu jab is because there is good evidence to show the risk of contracting flu is reduced, and if you do get it then the illness is milder and shorter This year I’m pregnant so it puts me in a higher risk group of getting more complicated flu. I’ve had the flu vaccination to protect myself and my unborn baby. I would encourage anyone eligible to take up the offer.’
Dr Mark Roland, associate medical director and consultant in respiratory medicine at PHT, said: ‘Having the flu jab helps me protect myself, my patients, my co-workers and my family from the flu and enables me to make the best contribution I am able to each winter.’
Health officials have said it is important for those eligible for the flu vaccination to have it every year as antibodies protecting against flu decline over time and flu strains can change from year to year.
This year flu vaccines have been improved to increase strains covered and boost immune response.
Jason Horsley, director of public health at Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘If you're in one of the at-risk groups who are able to get a free flu vaccination please take up this offer. It's free for you as the effects of flu can be very bad for your health. The flu vaccine is also free for carers as if they're unwell it not only affects them but also the person they care for.’
FLU MYTHS BUSTED
Having flu is just like having a heavy cold
A bad bout of flu is much worse than a heavy cold. Flu symptoms come on suddenly and sometimes severely. They include fever, chills, headaches and aching muscles, as well as a cough and sore throat. You're likely to spend two or three days in bed - and if there are complications you could end up in hospital.
Having the flu vaccine gives you flu
No, it doesn't. The injected flu vaccine that is given to adults contains inactivated flu viruses, so it can't give you flu. Your arm may feel a bit sore where you were injected, and some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards, but other reactions are very rare. The children's flu nasal spray vaccine contains live but weakened flu viruses that will not give your child flu.
Flu can be treated with antibiotics
No, it can't. Viruses cause flu, and antibiotics only work against bacteria. You may be prescribed antiviral medicines to treat your flu. Antivirals do not cure flu, but they can make you less infectious to others and reduce the length of time you may be ill. To be effective, antivirals have to be given within a day or two of your symptoms appearing. A bacterial infection may occur as a result of having the flu, in which case you may be given antibiotics.
Once you've had the flu vaccine, you're protected for life
No, you aren't. The viruses that cause flu can change every year, so you need a vaccination each year that matches the new viruses.
I'm pregnant, so I shouldn't have the flu jab because it will affect my baby
You should have the vaccine whatever stage of pregnancy you are in. If you're pregnant, you could get very ill if you get flu, which could also be bad for your baby. Having the jab can also protect your baby against flu after they're born and during the early months of life.
Children can't have the flu vaccine
The nasal spray flu vaccine is recommended on the NHS for all healthy two and three year olds – plus children in reception class, and school years one, two three, four and five.
In addition, children "at risk" of serious illness if they catch flu are eligible for a flu vaccine on the NHS. This includes children with a pre-existing illness, such as a respiratory or neurological condition, and children who are having treatment that weakens their immune system, such as chemotherapy.
The flu vaccine is generally given as an injection to children aged 6 months to 2 years and as a nasal spray to children aged 2 to 17 years who have a long-term health condition.
The flu vaccine isn't suitable for babies under the age of 6 months.
I've had the flu already, so I don't need the vaccination this year
You do need it if you're in one of the risk groups. As flu is caused by several viruses, you will only be protected by the immunity you developed naturally against one of them. You could go on to catch another strain, so it's recommended you have the jab even if you've recently had flu. Also, what you thought was flu could have been something else.
If I missed having the flu jab in October, it's too late to have it later in the year
No, it's not too late. It's better to have the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available, but it's always worth getting vaccinated before flu comes around. Since we don't know when flu will strike, the sooner you have the vaccine the better.
Vitamin C can prevent flu
No, it can't. Many people think that taking daily vitamin C supplements will stop them getting flu, but there's no evidence to prove this.